Slipforming, part 7 – Murphy’s Law, a constant companion

This post follows “Slipforming, part 6 – The latest project.”    For a complete list of links to all slipforming posts on this blog, click here.

So, we’ve covered that my biggest hurdle was overcoming doubt. Then, everything around me began to die, and then Dad’s added his initial view of the project admitting that he was not proud to confess that the entire work crew consisted of one 73-year-old man and two women in their early 30s (one pregnant, but thankfully not me). Out of this amazing work crew, none had built a home before. What was he thinking? (He was thinking it would last one week. That’s what he was thinking!) Happily for me, disappointingly for my father, I did not quit after one week.

We had dealt with the ugly reality that we were building a home without a plan – justifying this decision because I’d never built a home before, and didn’t know if it would be one floor or two, mindful of the ever-present possibility that I might beg to quit mid-way through the project. We needed flexibility, and that was solved by just not putting the floor in.

What would not putting in a floor have to do with it?

Well, by stubbing the water, gas and electric under the foundation, and leaving them inside, we could run them anywhere we chose. That decision freed me up to continue working on the rock walls while the weather was nice, and during the winter months I could obsess over where everything would go. I am quite aware this is not an ideal situation, nor am I advising it, but it was the only solution that fit our needs. Ken wanted in-floor heat and that decision required a more serious knowledge of the layout, which was dependent on knowing if we could add a second floor.

I knew where the kitchen, dining room and living room would be positioned, so we focused on what we had, and postponed what we did not. Toward that end, I began gathering rocks and we focused on putting up the exterior walls which took the bulk of that fall. I was very lucky, we did not have rain or snow until one week before Thanksgiving, an unusual year that blessed my project!

One thing I had not counted on was that I got in better shape lifting those rocks. Dad maintained they would get heavier with time, but in reality, they got lighter. By the end of four months of moving stones (and our make-shift scaffolding) around, I probably could have arm wrestled a high school boy and won!

I was lifting, moving, re-lifting, re-moving rocks almost all day. When I was not moving rocks, I was lifting the foam panels, lumber and tools. It was a very good workout. Very thorough! I slept very well every night from all the activity.

I also discovered that Murphy’s Law was alive and well. At this stage in the project, I learned three of Murphy’s Laws intimately:

Murphy’s Law #1: Early on, though I was only carrying cement in small coffee cans, I was lifting a lot of rocks. I was surprised when my hands started going numb, particularly in the fingers. As I would grasp the rocks with my fingers, spasms would shoot up my arm that were similar to electrical shocks.  It was the same feeling as hitting the funny bone on your elbow, except it was in my finger joints and ran all the way up to my shoulder. They were painful and this concerned me. Those who knew I was suffering suggested it might be carpal tunnel syndrome and that it could require surgery. That was an unacceptable answer. How could I finish this darned project if my hands quit on me within the first three weeks?

Luckily, a friend of mine – the mother of my high school boyfriend – came to the rescue. She was a rock hound who had spent the last 40 years of her life lifting and carrying heavy rocks. I asked her if she had ever had such problems. “Well, honey, of course!” she said in her high-pitched voice, laughing, “You’ve got to know when to stop. You need to take a break and let your muscles heal. I’ve had that happen hundreds of times. I just take some time off and it’s fine. Give yourself a couple weeks,” she said.

A couple weeks? But I was in September, with Colorado weather threatening to shut me down at any given point. Two weeks would seriously compromise my progress. I satisfied myself with a few days and spent those collecting other essentials for the project, namely 98-pound bags of cement and truck-loads of sand, which also provided some very important discoveries.

Murphy’s Law #2: Though I always considered myself an aficionado of playground equipment, I inadvertently ignored the hazards of duplicating a teeter-totter with a Ford pickup. For those fuzzy on teeter-totters and their application in slipforming, I discovered that 1) the gravel yard employees will let you put way too much sand in your truck; 2) when you load an old Ford pickup too full of sand – it tips the front of the truck upward, very much like a teeter totter, making steering an adventure; and 3) the gravel employee will think this is funny.

I had insisted on a truck full of sand – not wanting to make unnecessary trips back for more, and the bobcat operator looked at me and grinned. I think he knew it was a mistake I would make only once. And it was. I rolled out of the gravel yard driving like a drunken driver, swerving to the right, then over-correcting to the left. My maximum speed on the way home was probably 10 miles an hour and I was praying for my tires not to pop. Of course, Dad took one look at the rig and asked me what the heck I was doing to his old truck? Did I want to die? At that moment, the answer was “Yes!  Please!”

Murphy’s Law #3: On any building site, the likelihood of having to use a restroom is inversely proportional to the availability of one. In other words, if you need one, you won’t have one, and if you have one, you won’t need one. Secondly, your desire to “go” always seems to occur just moments before someone important drives up, regardless of the fact that no one has stopped by the site all day. Thirdly, these people are snapping photos as they approach the place, of course assuring you they will destroy any they might have snapped of you! (yeah, right…)

Ugh! I realized these facts early, and considered renting a port-a-potty. They are more expensive than I imagined, and as you will recall, I did not have a lot of money. That said, it made more sense to purchase a small camper and park it on the site, than to rent a port-a-potty. This decision had the added benefit of allowing me to get out of a rain storm, and provided a make-shift office and lockable tool storage. It also provided a spot for a kid (or me) to take a nap or wash a wound and apply a band-aid, if necessary. It was a brilliant decision.

That camper paid for itself over and over – and when I was done with it, I sold it for the same price I bought it for, thereby costing me nothing. It also had a working refrigerator and a stove, so when I was particularly depressed, I could dart inside for a hot cup of tea, or cocoa and regroup. Later, when I hired the roofing done and was paying by the hour, I suspected the roof contractor was fibbing on his hours, assuring me he was arriving one or two hours before I arrived. I started spending the night in the camper and my costs, and progress, improved markedly. All in all, that camper was a winner of an idea, and I still miss being able to just get away sometimes.

To see “Slipforming, part 8 – successes and failures,” click here.